Court decides ambiguity in medical chart against injured plaintiff: "no serious impairment"
In Patreka v. Brandi Cordle, et al., the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision that Patreka had not suffered a serious impairment, even though she claimed that she was off work for nearly two years, pursuant to doctor's orders. Patreka alleged that her motor vehicle injuries disrupted her social life and domestic duties, and also that her doctor had kept her off work through February of 2005, when the doctor entered this note in her chart: "I have given the patient a note that she continues to be unable to work." In 2004, the doctor had charted "I have continued to keep the patient off work."
Stunningly, the lower court and the Court of Appeals decided these statements did not create a question of fact with regard to whether the doctor had restricted Patreka's return to work. Both suggested that the statements were only documentation of Patreka's choice not to return to work and that Patreka had not met her burden of demonstrating physician restrictions that constituted a serious impairment of bodily function. Because she had not proved a "serious impairment", Patreka's case was dismissed and she was not allowed to collect any non-economic damages from the at-fault driver.
Reading between the lines of the opinion, it appears that there was a substantial question with regard to the objective manifestation of Patreka's injuries, and the Court engaged in the previous fictive analysis in order to achieve a result with which it was more comfortable. There was probably a suspicion that if the doctor actually considered Patreka unable to work during this period, her attorney should have taken the doctor's deposition to confirm it. Nevertheless, it is another example of how "bad cases make bad law" as the court turned to semantic gymnastics in order to dismiss a case it did not feel comfortable with.